Posted by: phillipsmy | May 5, 2010

Article: 5 Ways To Make A Great Multiplayer Experience

The online multiplayer market is dominated by one game, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, the follow up to Call of Duty 4 an equally dominant online game. Modern Warfare 2 made 55 million dollars on its opening days and has made over 1 billion dollars overall. It is one of the most successful video game releases ever and has even beaten the biggest money makers such as Avatar and Harry Potter. But how and why has this happened? Well it’s mostly down to hype, all you could hear on and offline was Modern Warfare 2, Modern Warfare 2 and more Modern Warfare 2, it’s also the money Activision and Infinity Ward have sunk into advertising. But what most hardcore fans paid for was the multiplayer, the hugely rewarding and hugely addictive experience that they loved from COD4. But what makes a great online experience? A multiplayer experience in which will make gamers keep coming back for more even though the game being years old. A game that feels fresh and new every time you log on to feed your addiction. Well here are my top 5 points.

1. Balanced Balance
I can’t stress enough how important balance is. Balance is such a big factor in a multiplayer shooter and apart from the points I’ll bring up later is a massive opportunity for a developer to ruin a game. From a grenade launcher being too overpowered to a sniper rifles rate of fire being a quarter of a second too fast, balance is critical.

Details are very important when getting balance right, with a tad adjustment making something very overpowered or underpowered. I would like to present you with an article from Edge on the GDC 2010 presentation from Jaime Griesemer of Bungie on balancing the sniper rifle in Halo 2. It details the change of the rate of fire for the Sniper Rifle from Halo 2 to Halo 3 with it being increased by 0.25 seconds. Yes 0.25 seconds, not a lot of time really. Its hard to believe though that it would make such a difference and make Jaime Griesemer have this reaction “Most importantly, every time I saw it (Halo 2s sniper rifle) being used I got nervous”. You really can see now that 0.25 seconds can make a world of difference. So getting a certain weapon right or a certain ability down to the letter is a very important and one which is very hard to achieve.

Balance is something that will never go away and is also something that is here to stay. On the most part though developers get it right and they craft great online experiences.

2. No Lag
Lag is always present, it’s either you’ve got a bad internet connection, the host has got a bad internet connection or the other players have got a bad internet connection. Lag is always apparent. Lag is something that will probably never be obsolete in your lifetime. I wouldn’t say this was a big problem with the lag usually caused by something other than the game either it be a hosts or your internet connection. But developers nearly always face this problem with it being even more likely when developers are new to multiplayer.

Take Bioshock 2, on the release of the game there was a lot of lag. Matchmaking was poor and when players eventually did get into a game lag was very much a big problem. Although now it’s fine, it can turn off people of the idea of multiplayer in a particular game. It’s important to note that most games do have teething problems at launch and then gradually over time get rid of the lag but its still a problem and can harm a game. How can it be prevented? Well if you accommodate players with more and better servers would be a good way also having a beta like the likes of the Halo and Call of Duty Series’ do is always great way to test out servers.

I talked briefly about how lag wouldn’t change in your lifetime. Am I wrong about this? Maybe, maybe not. It’s hard to know what the future will hold and the only evidence of lag becoming obsolete is OnLive. What OnLive is presenting is interesting and amazing but also quite dubious as well. OnLive is a service which can allow low end PCs the ability to be play high end games that couldn’t possibly run without OnLive. Rather than installing a game you would in effect ‘stream’ a game straight from the OnLive servers. Although not directly relating to multiplayer lag, it’s still an interesting idea that OnLive is giving and may affect multiplayer gaming in the future. Whatever the future is I know something that I’m almost certain is going to change.

3. Fun Gameplay and Good Game Mechanics
A pretty obvious one although something that also obviously can’t be overlooked. Gameplay is always changing and adapting to the market and so do developers have to adapt and bring something new. Not only bringing something new but most importantly bring something that first and foremost, is good. It’s not rocket science, giving the audience something good will always succeed.

Gameplay is very much hinged on if the things mentioned in the list are up to par. Having a game with killer gameplay means nothing if the game is overshadowed with lag, overpowered weapons etc. It’s also important that the gameplay is fresh and is not copied or just out right ripped off from another games gameplay. A game which is very similar to another games gameplay is very annoying especially in the multiplayer arena. Although these things might harm, a unique concept is something that will significantly boost your chance to make people buy your game. The player wants something fresh and maybe something that’s innovative and something that has an effect on what they’ll be playing 10 years from now. They want a game although copied by other games will only be as good as the original. They’ll want something that will keep them playing over and over again and something that delivers in all departments.

Rocket Science.

4. Keep the Game Fresh
Your players are going to be playing your game a lot. If you’ve got everything right with your game and you’ve shipped it out to be sold, how do you keep your fans happy and keep them coming back? There are many ways, here’s the first.

Firstly a good xp system is a safe bet to make players keep on playing. It doesn’t necessarily make the game fresh but makes the player play more and makes the game have an addictive nature. Unlocking weapons and new abilities was of course first popularized in Call of Duty 4 but now is copied by most online games. It pretty much makes the game an MMO and we know how addictive they are.

Secondly is good gameplay, I’ve already touched on this earlier and its pretty obvious: make a good game people will play it. You also have DLC which can add something new to a game that might be getting stale or newness to game that is getting less and less popular. Usually coming in the form of a map pack, DLC are also very profitable with Call of Duty: WAW map packs being very profitable in particular. It’s something that most games do nowadays and fast becoming the norm for a game to have DLC.

Lastly is the little bit extra you get with the game. This won’t necessary be something that is asked for or something that is the norm in modern day games and most of the time it’s innovative. What I’m referring to is the Forge in Halo 3 or the Horde Mode in Gears of War 2 or something like that. It’s that little extra in which the developer has gone the extra mile to deliver something special. It creates freshness by providing something unique and something fun. I know I’ve already covered “a unique concept” but a unique concept will keep gamers coming back because that’s the only place they’ll be getting from.

5. Respect your Community
This is maybe the least important out of the 5 in which a developer can make a great online experience but is still worthy to mention.

In any multiplayer game community is key, it’s a major way developers improve there games and its how a developers fans can interact with them and give feedback to improve there favourite games. So it’s a bit obvious that developers should interact, acknowledge and take on board what they think and say, Right? Well not always, developers sometimes don’t acknowledge the fact that they have a community who are very loyal and care. This I think is a travesty.

So how can developers make the most of there communities? Simple, listen. Listening to your community is vital whether that be on a message board or a forum, listen and listen more. Although don’t over listen to them and give them every wish and command, have some of your own creativity put into the game and create a good balance between the two to eventually make a great game.

See you online!
Multiplayer gaming is one of the biggest genres in gaming and I personally feel that these 5 points will make a great online experience. There are of course different things you can do to make a great online experience but I feel these are the 5 biggest things a developer can get right. Now excuse me, I’m off to go play Halo 3, Battlefield Bad Company 2, Modern Warfare 2, Gears of War 2, Left 4 Dead 2, Borderlands and many many more.

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Responses

  1. Nice article Phil.

    In my opinion it is very essential that from day one of the release the game has no lag when playing online. For example I am a big Tekken fan but when I bought the game on release day, the multiplayer had a bit of lag so I stopped playing online.

    Now I just go to my friend’s house and we beat the hell of out each other in offline mode. If the problem has been fixed, don’t tell me to login online because I won’t. I just play offline. I don’t know if someone thinks the same way.

    • Thanks 🙂 It’s very evident lag, just look at the release of the new Halo Reach beta, the first day the servers overfilled and I myself couldn’t get in a game.

      • great 5 points im only 13 butt u were right about the over an over powered weapons ure really smart great job MW2 the bomb find me on ps3 network under awesomeizboy

  2. I’d say that our friend MW:2 falls short on four of those five points, the saving grace being it’s adrenaline inducing multiplayer. Think about it, If MW:2 were so balanced, why are “noob tubes” so utterly loathed and blessed with such a title. Have they kept the game fresh and supporting the community with interesting DLC/game content? Not that I’ve seen.


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